Expressions of the Heart is a most apt title for the evening’s program from I Cantori di Carmel. All Saints’ Church in Carmel, provided the beautiful acoustics for an eclectic program ranging from Bach to contemporary Russian composer Georgy Sviridov. As Conductor Cyril Deaconoff pointed out, this selection of choral works is sung from the heart to the heart of the listener. I Cantori program notes are known for rich descriptions – definitely an appreciated mini history lesson without sitting through graduate classes!
Starting with the Bach Lobet den Herrn, BWV 230, the singers kept a lightness and joy especially in the alleluias so appropriate to spring and renewal. Backing up a century to Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the choir presented Missa Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La. Borrowing from the program notes; “This is a cantus firmus Mass in which one voice intones the melody in long notes and around which a counterpoint is developed.” Palestrina took some liberties along the way to great effect with the score as a whole. Fast-forward to the mid 19thcentury and the American Spiritual “Steal Away.” This Joseph Jennings arrangement was familiar to anyone remembering Jennings time with Chanticleer. Excellent soloists were Arthur Wu, tenor and Steve Moore, bass. Jody Lee and Kathryn Smith outdid themselves as the soloists in Rene Clausen’s Tonight Eternity Alone to round out the first half. The poetry of Thomas J. Jones describing the setting sun giving away to the eternal blue of night was beautifully conveyed with Clausen’s penchant for close harmonies and unexpected chord progressions.
The second half was filled with a choral work most likely unknown to the audience. Georgy Sviridov is a household name in Russia but not widely known abroad. His choice of texts is a musical “book of poems” by Aleksandr Pushkin. Entitled A Pushkin Garland, these ten poems begin with A Winter Morning and proceed through romantic yearning for past and present loves, dancing, joys of youth and remembrance in old age. Again Jody Lee distinguished herself in the second poem, A little Ring. In The Echo a small group went to the back of the church and as the title foretells sailed their “echo” effortlessly over the entire audience to the main choir at the front. Astrid Holberg more than ably carried her solo part among the call and response. Chimes and percussion added to the festivities of The Grecian Feast. To western ears, the poem Camphor and Musk telling of lovers parting had what some might call a typical Russian sound of darkness and an open modal feel. A most humorous piano accompaniment provided by Cindy Chen added to the gaiety. With soloists basically out of sight, an amazing effect was produced with the choir support of soloists Kathryn Smith, and Seth Bates in Reveille. Arise, Timid One featured soloists Gayle Smith and Laura Frank. The final poem, Magpie Chatter, was that and more. With breakneck tempo, the sound effects provided by Lee, Holberg, Smith, Wu, and Justin Huang, along with the choir brought this program to a riotous ending. Deaconoff continues to elevate the ante of I Cantori di Carmel presentations. Especially in the all Russian texts of the second half, the earthiness and richness of individual voices came through stylistically.